FOOD inflation, especially rice shortage, has been a concern since the beginning of the year given that aus and amon harvests were destroyed by flooding in the haor region. Later, the annual flood has also impacted the cycle of rice farming. In such a situation, the news of rice and wheat pilferage from the Central Storage Depot is disconcerting. A powerful syndicate of black marketeers with the connivance of food officials, as New Age reported on Tuesday, are stealing grains from the government storage depots. The gross irregularity was exposed when a mobile court intercepted two trucks immediately after they had left the Central Storage Depot at Tejgaon in Dhaka for emergency relief distribution among flood victims. In July, in a similar manner, the Rapid Action Battalion detained five people, including a food official, in possession of 155 tonnes of rice stolen from a government warehouse in Chittagong. This incident is reflective of the notorious legacy of corruption in government food storage and distribution. The most recent incident is especially deplorable considering that flood victims from different corners are faced with food shortage and starvation.
The stealing begins right at the depot by illegally opening sealed rice bags, which are then weighed with tampered scales and officials who receives the rice stocks for distribution also collaborates by manipulating the delivery documents. Pilfered rice stocks filled in new sacks are then directly sold on the black market while many flood victims go home without relief supplies. The system has grown to be so powerful that even members of the parliament cannot get food stock sanctioned for distribution as relief in their respective constituency. A Jatiya Party lawmaker alleged that food officers, so desperate to steal, ignored his repeated requests that 400 villagers had to return home without relief in August. If the earlier cases of reported stealing involving food officials had been properly investigated, the system could not have prevailed unchallenged. However, the government has remained lacklustre in dealing with corruption in food storage and relief distribution system. When the ill motive of the vested quarters was already in the know, it was only prudent that the government would take adequate measures to prevent the recurrence of such events.
It is morally reprehensible that food officials, custodians of rice and wheat stock, are themselves part of the black market. It is in this context that the government should ensure that the committee set up to investigate the reported theft of rice should perform its duty with due diligence and give exemplary punishment to those found to be guilty. It has to show no tolerance when it comes to the management of basic food supply for the citizens. Otherwise, flood victims as well as public at large will have to bear the brunt of food inflation.
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